I had a meeting today with a very dear friend and he introduced himself to the group as a storyteller. I was taken aback. This was the first time I have ever heard anyone introduce themselves so confidently as one. Not because it’s what I really love to do, but to describe yourself as one, to showcase how one can use it as a medium to impact people’s life is an amazing feat to me. I told him I will be borrowing that line from here on out because it is who I am. I am a storyteller. I use stories to guide the work I do for a living. I connect better with stories. They help make what I do in health easy to understand.

If you call me to speak to your class about my work or global health in general, I can connect it back to a story or two. My dissertation experience for example with using malaria rapid kits at a time when the kits were $25. I use stories to illustrate the economic side of malaria and how I called the company that made the kits. I really called Binax Now and told them it was insane that a malaria test kit cost $25 when the people that need it the most barely live on $1 a day. I remember distinctively being told but it was for the people like me who travel to those places. That when we return and we become sick and present at a hospital, the hospital would have a rapid kit to see if we tested positive for malaria. The distributor went on to even say they can send me kits set to expire as many hospitals weren’t seeing many patients with malaria. They did and so the story for my dissertation research began.

Telling that story never gets old. It’s the foundation for my passion on innovations and why I think we need to partner more with companies to promote innovative tools and kits in places that need them the most. That same company today now makes COVID-19 test kits. Of course I feel tempted to call them again as this time, their kits cost $20 and most people in places I work have no access to testing of any kind. It’s stories that help me make sense of why I need to really continue what I do in public health, especially in moments where nothing makes sense and there are many moments like this.

It’s stories that keep me grounded. Stories of the youths for example with my HIV self-testing project in Nigeria, passionate about making sure that all young people they know, get to know their status. I may not be a famous or well known public health researcher. It doesn’t matter to me to become one. But a storyteller in public health, especially one dedicated to centering people in their health, takes it all to another level. I am a storyteller and I use stories to put people first. I also use stories to make health programs last. Keep being storyteller in your field. The world needs more of us.

My daughter wrote a poem about our world. A simple poem about so many wonderful things to see, whether day or night. Like birds who chirp or flowers that sway. Next to tall trees, or beneath blue skies. Day time has wonders for all to see, she notes. But night time too, with a big moon and stars that twinkle or owls that stare wisely, are just as brilliant as the day. Wolves howling to the moon or the color of the night, like day, even night she notes, has many wonders of its own. It’s simple and from her childlike mind. This simplicity, written on wide-ruled paper with blue ink, personifies the mood I’m in these days. No need for noise. No need to an audience too. Simple will do. Like day and night. Simple has wonders, if only we stop to see it. It’s my keep for today and always. Keep simple, my daughter’s gift to me and it’s many wonders to see.

First day blues. Today was the first day since I last taught a class, a little over a year ago. It’s seems like a long time ago. My mindset begins blues. My mind was set on new ways to cultivate this course, elevate this class too. We are heavy on Sinek. Start with why, my forever muse. It’s a grant writing class. So finding why, is what I forever choose. The golden circle my forever mood. Behind the scenes, though, three children were sick with cold. Something viral in the air with all the back to school blues. I caught it too. Still we proceeded with today, nervous as ever, for every start of a new semester, a new set of blues, new set of rules and tools, for weary souls. There is still a pandemic too. Yet we begin, as if my world has not been turned upside down since August, as if these blues have not depressed my mind. We moved with ease too. Seeing new faces, new minds to cultivate, bring joy for this call to elevate. Never want to get to the top without minds we elevate. So I settled down to reach each one, as best as I could, with stories that would help shift minds as best as it could. We don’t teach here. We reach minds. There were talks of failure as an opportunity. My stories through academia are ripe with failures. Lavish ones to boast of. Of ways to fail eloquently, yet rise still eloquent, for the call to elevate minds is a movement, a moment so full of eloquence. There were peaks and valleys or stories of moments of joy, moments of despair through this process of cultivating minds. They loved it. This isn’t a grant writing class I said. It’s one where we throw all rules out the door. For to be the best at this, to truly work to cultivate minds, you will need to elevate minds to think outside the box, outside all they have stocked in neat piles about grant writing. I don’t do piles. I don’t teach either. Just stories. Every grant is a storytelling tell to me. So we begin there, with your why story. They smiled. I smiled too. We are hooked. First day blues keep me smiling all day too. Day 1 down, 12 more to go. Keep first day blues with new classes.

There is nothing like introducing a child to Shel Silverstine. ‘A light in the attic’ being one of my favorite of his. Of course ‘where the sidewalk ends’ is equally fantastic. Then don’t let me get started on ‘the giving tree.’ Everything he wrote and illustrated is truly worthy of praises. Not because he was gifted with his craft, but more so because of his rare combination of poems and drawings for dreamers and those who love to imagine, believer and those who like to believe differently, thinkers and those who do so differently, dream, believe and think, different. To introduce him to my son was a delight. To watch the light in his attic flicker on was joy. We spent the entire summer drawing, all sorts of pigeon particularly from Mo Willems ‘Don’t let the Pigeon drive the bus.’ Discovering drawing with cartoons was one of the best thing we did we all summer with him. I never knew he loved to draw until this summer thanks to Mo Willems and his brilliantly simple tales of a pigeon.

It allowed him to focus, as in not for minutes but hours even on pigeons, drawing and illustrating books and books of it in other versions like The Pigeon gets a hotdog. He was not only drawing, but committing words to memory, reciting them all to himself in ways that make sense to his mind. Doing so, allowed him to temper his meltdowns. Some drawings will be poor, full of mistakes too. Some will make you mad, disappointed or frustrated with yourself too. But the ones that stand the test of time. The ones that defy the odd and leap through the pages to tell your story as clearly as you want are the ones full of joy, full of delight, full of all his light.

Now enter Shel Silverstine. Before there was Mo and all his pigeon tales, Silverstine shined brightly. A light in the attic is a classic of his. Short and sweet for minds quirky but full of treats. And my son’s mind is superb, with Silverstine’s work a gentle treat, so soft but full of power like the sounds of a drumbeat. Where he ends, whether with the bridge that only my son can take across his mind past moonlit woods on a magic carpet through the air or past whistling and whirling winds from skies so grey, is where my som begins. The journey is endless with Shel Silverstine and I can wait to watch as he journeys through it all. There is a light in the attic of his mind. Though we are all outside, we keep looking as flickers with his light.

The air is full of possibilities these days. Full of grit and full of persistence when you remain rooted in knowledge. The winds are changing too. And when they blow, things will move too. Something about the start of the new school year almost always feels like a cleansing time for me. Time to get rid of old and in with new. Time to change also, for the wind is blowing. It has been a very difficult summer for me and my family. But as I get ready to start my first week of teaching, I am ready to nurture this delicate balance we call life to the fullest, one story at a time. A purposeful quiet is brewing too, potentially making the new school year one filled with possibilities even in distant horizons.

I listened to an hour long episode of the life of Dr. Elizabeth Kubler Ross today on NPR’s Radio Lab. It’s was as if someone, somewhere needed to remind me of her work. Dr. Ross was the pioneer on death and dying and the stages people go through right before they die. From denial, to anger, depression, to bargaining, and acceptance, she showed through painstakingly research that people dying are humans too, with feelings and emotions worthy of documenting, if not for their passage, then for those that remain to get through life, one day at a time despite their loss. People left behind, also go through stages of grief that are similar to stages of dying. My grieving for Angie makes more sense now. I am still angry with her, denial too, for she was gone too soon, and all of this seems like a dream. The episode however, reviewed the beginning including how Dr. Ross got into studying death. I know of her work and her book, but not really her life or that she was one of triplets for example.

But of all I heard, what struck me what that as Dr. Ross was getting ready to die, as she prepared for her passage to the great unknown, the stage the cameras fully captured where the periods of her anger. Even Dr. Ross was angry about her own pending death. That’s when it hit me. Dying is inevitable. We all know this. Those who are lucky enough to witness their own death in plain view are the lucky ones. They at least get to prepare, whether they are angry with death or not, accepting of it or not. The key thing is that they prepare. It’s inevitable after all and so why not prepare for the journey to the great unknown. You can choose to be angry. Life is too short, so being angry with your own death is acceptable. You may choose to be happy. To see your own death coming, takes a lot of courage that happiness, acceptance of it is probably the sweetest part of living, a zen-like state that only the pleasure of dying can achieve. To think dying, can be full of pleasure is such an oxymoron that no one living wants to contemplate. But what if we do. What if we actually start living as if any single day just might be the day we die?

Of course, you may choose to become depressed, bargain with doctors even for the right to live, if you knew your death was near. I think of Chadwick Boseman for example. His one year anniversary of his passing is today. I know he probably accepted his death, but I recall feeling depressed for him when I heard the news last year. I would have bargained with all my might to live. I would have been depressed too for there were still so much to give from this young and gifted man. Yet, when his time came, he too left, in whatever stage he found himself in. The consolation too from all the reports I read following his passing was that he was prepared. Something that very few of us will have the opportunity to attain when our own time comes. Which brings me to the living. Death is inevitable. We all know this. Even the greatest and richest ones among us will die too. But what are you doing to prepare? How are you living as if today was your last day? It’s a powerful reminder to live life fully. Do it on your own terms so that when the time comes, you are prepared. And those you live behind, they too will be accepting of whatever stage you left with when your time came. It’s inevitable afterall. So prepare while you are still living.

We survived week 1. One full week of school. One full week of lunch packs. One full week of homework. One full week of early morning wakes; 6:30am. One full week of early bedtimes; 8:30pm. One full week of mask wearing. One full week of non stop questions. One full week of stopping to ask questions. One full week of endless days. One full week of mindless haze. I still wouldn’t trade it for anything, not even homeschooling. To be back full time is blissful. Our children need schools. You need to wear your masks and vaccinate so they have endless days of school.

August has been a whirlwind month. We are still making sense of this month. Still hoping that we would wake up from this dream. Still asking questions. Still wondering why. Still confused as to how we got here. Still wishing we never got here. Still hoping for all this to go away. But most of all still wishing Angi was here with us. Today marks two weeks since she left us. My husband still has questions. I have some too. We have no answer, no way of getting to the bottom of our ordeal and this is the most difficult aspect of it all. To think we could have saved her if we knew on time. My sister should be alive is all he says. I agree is what I say. We know that our questions will never fully be answered. Still we ask them to ourselves, to each other, to remind ourselves that no woman, no girl too we know, or don’t even know should ever go through this ordeal again. It’s our mission. One we hope to share with the world, to make sure we get to the bottom of cervical cancer. We can end it. We will. We were encouraged by a card we receive in the mail today. A perpetual Catholic mass card in Angie’s honor. It came today, exactly 2 weeks. We are motivated. Our fight will be perpetual too.

We have been experience very hot summer days. 100 degrees hot. We stayed indoors. Stayed closed together too. My boys love outdoors. Jumping on their blue trampoline is one of their favorite things to do. All of that came to a halt the past few days. Staying cool inside the house was all they could do. Until this afternoon. My daughter has the bright idea of using our sprinklers to stay cool. Against my better judgement, I agreed. The water was cool. Their peals of laughter, even soothing with our new found tool . I was pleasantly surprised. Even sprinklers on a hot day works. It’s kept the kids cool, kept them dancing too. Kept me cool, dancing too, as I watched the joy in their eyes and feet. Keep dancing with sprinkling water.

They were on the floor. All three brothers, head to head. Sister was in the room with her piano teacher Ms. Neva mastering the twinkling star, wondering what it was. I looked at the boys wondering why the floor. They rolled around and around, laughing and smiling away. Shining brightly too like rare diamonds on the ground. They twisted and turned, and twisted some more, oblivious to the dirt all around them, oblivious to the sounds of my pleas too. The ground was all they wanted. Getting up from it was all I wanted.

So I tried to pull them up from the ground, one by one. They all went back to the ground after each successful attempt. I kept pulling them away, trying not to lose my temper or my mind. I was afraid of the ground, afraid they would hurt themselves, afraid that they too would hurt the ground. The carpet was light brown. They are children, boys too. I hate dirt on carpets, on lightly colored ones, or any colorless one. They love dirt, big or bright, dark or small. Any that will make you curse under your breath. It’s the reason why we have no carpets in our home. We just removed the beige ones that came with the home we bought. The carpet lasted 20 years or so prior to our ownership. With us, my boys and their love for red volcanic experiments or any colorful merriment, it lasted 2 days.

Carpets aside, we are still in a pandemic. If you believe the virus is airborne, then chances are that no child should lay on the ground. Yet, my boys adored the ground. Laid on it too, like it was the finest of cottons. After my pleas to get up fell on deaf ears, I paused and looked at them, looked at the ground too with intent. I took in the moment, took in the laughter, took in the love fully on display. No wonder they were oblivious to my pleas. In life, we will pass through dirt, we may be on the ground too with dirt. Diamonds are all the time. But still, we can shine brightly even in the middle of all the dirt around us.

My boys taught me that, rolling and laughing on the ground. They call it black boy joy. I call it love. To see it on full display among boys oblivious to the dirt around them, oblivious to the ground, oblivious to the world, is breathtakingly magical. We need more love. Here, they are oblivious to the world. Here, they have defeated the world. Here, they have rolled away the ground. Here, they choose to listen to their laughter, listen to joyful sound. Here, they returned back to dirt, return back to earth. Here, they uncovered the beginning of knowledge. Here they use it to teach the power of love, the power of being loved. Here, they love, love and love, loves them too. Here, they love being together, laughing together too, even on the ground with dirt all around. Here, they love those around them, each other and that is all that matters. I will cherish this keep.